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THe Problem with SURRENDER

Episode 28: In yoga we call surrender Ishvara Pranidhana. In the Christian, tradition they say "Thy will be done." But no matter what term you'd like to use, it's inarguable: the practice of surrender can be a powerful tool to support us on our spiritual journeys—and in our daily lives. Although that's true only if we use it right.

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To surrender to God is not to surrender to some Divine entity, but rather it is to surrender to what is.


Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning. Right here, right now. I'm your host, Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.


It's no coincidence that the practice of surrender is featured so prominently in, well, virtually every spiritual tradition.


In yoga, we call it ishvara pranidhana. In Christianity, we see “Thy will be done,” and the very word Islam actually translates as submission or surrender.


Of course, the reason we see such prevalence of this practice is that it plays such a central role in creating the state that all spiritual traditions aspire to: and, of course, that state is inner peace.


And while there's no doubt that surrender is, in fact, a powerful tool, the fact is, as with all tools, it can be misused.


You see, here's what we need to remember. Tools are amazing things, and this is true of tools in our everyday world like hammers and screwdrivers and scissors, but it's also true of our tools that we use in our spiritual lives, like yoga, postures, meditation, and yes, even surrender.


But what's often forgotten is that it's not so much which tool you're using that matters the most. It's how you're using the tool you're using.


Because the fact is you can use a tool, any tool, to take you further toward the goal you're trying to achieve. For instance, you can use a hammer to build yourself a house, but you can also use that very same tool, in this case, the hammer, to move away from your goal by tearing down your house.


And so it goes with surrender. You can use it to create profound inner peace as it was intended, but you can just as easily use it to keep you stuck in more of the same as well. It all depends on how you use the tool.


Here's where it becomes easy to get off track: For so many of us, we've grown up with a notion of God as an entity, a Divine personage that stands apart from us, and a personage who should obey. And wanting to be good yogis or Christians or Muslims or Jews or whatever, we do just that. We surrender to that Divine being in whatever way we've come to conceptualize it.


So, we're all good, right? Well, not so fast.


Because for so many of us, as we sincerely surrender to our concept of God, we, at the very same time, end up with a flat tire on our rainy night, or we get passed over for promotion, or our mouthy teenager lets us have it with both barrels…


And right in the middle of all of these everyday happenings, we lose our ever loving minds.


“This is BS!” we say as we wrestle our spare tire on the side of the road.

“It's so unfair!” We say, as we watch our friend get promoted ahead of us.

“How dare she?” We say, as said teenager slams her bedroom door.

Frustration, anger, irritation, that to be clear, came not from the flat, the friend, or the teen. But from our conflict-ridden relationship with those things.

So much for surrender.


To surrender means to let go, to let go of our personal preferences, our agendas, in favor of God's. But it's not surrender to the Divine personage, in whatever way that one has conceived it. It's surrender to the expression of the Divine personage, or we could say it's surrender to Divine will. Thy will be done, my Lord not mine.

And this brings up a particularly prescient question:


For if my job is to surrender to Divine will, what exactly is Divine will?


Well, fortunately there's a very simple litmus test to tell if something is Divine will or if it's not Divine will, and here's the test:


If it's happening, it's Divine will.

If it's not happening, it's not Divine will.

Simple. And yes, I'm fully aware that a lot of people might get their feathers ruffled by this definition, but let us not forget that the Divine, or God, if you prefer, is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. That is all powerful, all knowing and everywhere according to virtually every tradition.


That is to say there is nothing outside of the Divine, nothing to oppose it, and thus, if it's happening, it has to be Divine. And from the perspective of that practice of surrender, it is our job to surrender to that, to what is happening now.


So, here's a question: Why would we want to surrender to what's happening now, especially if what's happening now is quite obviously awful?

Well, it's here that we want to go right back to the stated goal of yoga. And again, the goal of nearly all spiritual and religious traditions. And that is inner peace, or as it said in the Yoga Sutras: inner still.


You see, when the mind goes to war with what's happening now instead of surrendering to it, and I'm talking about the minds complaining. It's tendency to resist and wrestle with the current circumstance. It's habit of protesting with that repetitive notion: “This should not be like ths…”

None of it, no matter how indignant or enthusiastic, can have any effect on changing what's happening now, at least for now.


But it does do an excellent job of adding frustration, anxiety, irritation, and anger, and so much more on top of what's happening now.


You see, here's what we really need to keep in mind. The fact that now-is-as-now-is, and what that means is that now, this particular moment, cannot be any different from how it is, at least for now, and this is true of every moment. It’s true of every “now”.

As an example, right now, you have no choice but to be where you are and listening to this podcast. Now, I know the mind might try to tell you that you could have chosen to listen to a different podcast, but the fact is that you didn't. So here you are.

And if you happen to have one of those really clever minds, It might try to convince you that you could simply turn off the podcast and do something else.


And while that might be true in a microsecond from now, for now, for that infinitely thin slice of time we call this moment, you're stuck.


And so it goes for each and every moment of your life, even when we end up with a flat tire on a rainy night, we get passed over for promotion, or our mouthy teenager lets us have it with both barrels.


And the fact is no amount of complaining or protesting or fighting is going to change those circumstances, at least in the moment.


So, another way to think of this is as each moment arises:

We have no ability to make the moment better for now, but we can make our experience of the moment so much worse by adding the irritation and the angst and the frustration that comes from going to war with the moment.


So, surrender then, is a kind of device. One designed to help our minds make peace with the immutable now. Instead of resisting it and adding tons of optional suffering and misery on top of it, it's a means to pinch off the creation of totally unnecessary conflict and drama in our lives.


And, of course, to enjoy more ease and harmony, and yes, inner peace instead.

But, just to emphasize the most important piece, not by surrendering to the mind's notion of some Divine entity, but by surrendering to the actual expression of the Divine. Or said more plainly by surrendering to what is happening now in this moment, and then again now and again now and now and now.


But as always, please don't take my word for any of this.


Instead, experiment and see for yourself. For the next time you find yourself faced with a circumstance that the mind would rather not be experiencing, whether it be a traffic jam, or a headache, or some bloviating politician on TV. Watch the tendency of the mind to go to war with that moment, to resist what's happening now as if it shouldn't be happening now. With its “not agains!” or the “why me’s”, or that “this should not be like this!” and see how this internal conflict is making you feel.


Really notice the consequences of going against God's will. That consequence might be the experience of frustration. It might be the experience of anger. It might be the experience of doubt or worry or worse, and just observe it without judgment or commentary.


And then maybe change things up and do something different and surrender instead.


Just relax. Allow the moment to be just as it is. Maybe going so far as to give it your full permission to be as it is. Relax with the traffic jam. Relax with the headache. Relax with the bloviating politician. And see for yourself the calm, the ease, and the harmony that surrendering to God's will can actually bring you.


Well, that's it for this episode. I hope that our exploration of yoga's practice of surrender will help you usher more peace and joy into your life.


As always, thanks for listening and please remember that this podcast is made possible only by the generosity of listeners like you. So please, if you can support me over on my Patreon page, it would mean the world to me and so many others who this work serves.


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Thanks again, and remember, I'm here to serve, so let me know how I can help you. I'll see you next time.



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